Knowledge Transfer Partnership Case Study: B-hive Innovations

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(L-R) Dr Robin Thorn (UWE Bristol), Dr Barbara Correia (KTP Associate),Mark Willcox (Branston Ltd), Vee Gururajan (B-hive Innovations).

In the below case study, we share the highlights from our Knowledge Transfer Partnership with B-hive Innovations. Find out more about Knowledge Transfer Partnerships with UWE Bristol here.

About B-hive Innovations

B-hive Innovations Ltd is an agritech business that conducts R&D activities for the fresh produce industry, aiming to increase quality and reduce food waste.

The challenge the KTP was set up to address

Under certain growing, storage and handling conditions, potatoes can develop internal defects that affect their quality. This leads to significant reductions in crop value throughout the supply chain, increases food waste and reduces consumer confidence in the product.

This project aimed to develop a new gas sensing technology to non-destructively detect internal defects in potatoes before reaching the consumer, thereby increasing the quality of fresh produce and reducing food waste.

Part of the team building the developed sensing technology platform

Why a KTP was the right mechanism to achieve this?

An initial collaborative proof-of-concept study (funded by the BBSRC) demonstrated that there were significant differences in the gases (volatile compounds) emitted by defected and non- defected potatoes.

This KTP enabled B-hive to recruit an Agri-Tech Development Scientist to identify the main volatile compounds associated with internal defects, by utilising the UWE Bristol knowledge base in advanced mass spectrometry instrumentation and gas sensing.

This enabled development and testing of a sensor technology prototype in the industrial environment (utilising B-hive Innovations expertise and facilities) with the potential to monitor and detect the early presence of internal defects in real time.

The solution

This project required skills in both scientific experimental design and volatile compound identification/analysis, which B-hive did not have in-house. UWE Bristol provided the broad ranging expertise in gas sensing and advanced mass spectrometry instrumentation needed to carry out the research. Together with the KTP Associate, the team was then able to translate the complex scientific knowledge into a sensor technology prototype that has been tested and refined into a suitable industrial solution

What changed as a result of the KTP?

B-hive, UWE Bristol and the KTP Associate have built a sensing technology platform with the capability to detect internal defects in potatoes that could be exploitable across the agri-tech sector.

This has also resulted in a knowledge base of:

  1. volatile compound profiles related to potatoes that develop internal defects,
  2. new expertise in experimental design and data analysis applied to potato tubers, and
  3. long-term industrial deployment of robust sensor technology.

This knowledge exchange has paved the way to seeking additional funding to progress the next R&D activities and shorten the gap towards commercialisation. The partnership has also unveiled new potential agri-tech applications for this type of sensing approach.

Installing the sensing technology platform for testing in an industrial environment.

Outcomes: Impacts & Benefits

For B-hive Innovations:

New skills have been translated in-house regarding gas sensor prototype development, testing and deployment within the agri-food sector.

The achieved outcomes have opened up new possibilities for B-hive to commercialise the developed innovation and they are now informed on the best practice to succeed.

For UWE Bristol:

Have gained further experience of agri-food manufacturing processes coupled with sensor hardware/software integration for industrial implementation, creating new knowledge where they will be able to focus their future endeavours and strengthen their position as facilitators of industrial development.

For the KTP Associate:

The KTP Associate has gained new scientific and transferable competences, gathered considerable understanding of the potato industry and its needs, and experience in a business environment.

The KTP Associate has been employed by the company to take the project’s innovation forward.

Quantifiable benefits

When identified as defective and failing quality control inspections, a tonne of potatoes reduces its value on average from £185 to £12. This represents a loss of value of 93.5%.

Considering a cold store comprises between 500 and 1200 tonnes, early detecting a defective stock and trading it before it loses its commercial value could represent earnings in between £86,500 and £207,600 – for just one storage unit!

The technology in action

What the partners are saying?

The KTP partnership has enabled collaborative translations of academic knowledge in sensing technology platforms into an applied context to solve a real world problem. It has been fantastic having the KTP Associate embedded within the company, ensuring the project remained industrially focussed, and resulting in collective tangible outcomes that benefitted the Company, the Associate and the University.”

Dr Robin Thorn, Associate Professor in Molecular Life Sciences, Centre for Research in Biosciences, UWE Bristol

I was immediately attracted to this project for its challenging, innovative and applied nature, but I must say it was when I met the team that I was sure this was going to be a great experience. The constant support, communication and knowledge exchange have proved crucial to the successful progress of this project – and I have learnt so much along the way.

Dr Barbara Correia, KTP Associate, UWE Bristol / B-hive Innovations.

The primary objective of this KTP project is to enhance fresh produce quality and reduce waste. Having the opportunity to draw on dedicated resources and expertise of both the KTP Associate and the team from UWE Bristol has been invaluable and has helped us make good progress. The results so far have been very encouraging, and we look forward to refining the achieved outcomes beyond the project timescale with a view to commercialise this innovation.

Vee Gururajan, Managing Director, B-hive innovations

This partnership received financial support from the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) programme. KTP aims to help businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK knowledge base. This successful Knowledge Transfer Partnership project, funded by UK Research and Innovation through Innovate UK, is part of the government’s Industrial Strategy.